Charles Cary Rumsey's Massive Olympic Friezes, Now Cast in Bronze, Being Installed on UB's North Campus

Release Date: June 30, 2004 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The University at Buffalo is installing three monumental bas-relief friezes depicting athletes engaged in Olympic sports that were conserved, restored and cast in bronze by students and faculty of the Department of Art in the College of Arts and Sciences.

The installation site is an area adjacent to a small garden next to the main entrance to Alumni Arena, one of the most frequently traveled areas on the UB North (Amherst) Campus

The friezes were designed by Buffalo artist Charles Cary Rumsey, the son of a prominent and wealthy Buffalo family, who was a notable athlete and a well-regarded figure in the second phase of the Beaux-Arts style, one of the most distinctive phases of American sculpture.

Rumsey was commissioned in 1920 to create the series of plaster bas-reliefs that later would be used to cast concrete Olympic Games Friezes for the Isaac L. Rice Stadium in Pelham Bay.

The series consists of three panels totaling 60 feet in length that depict athletes competing in several Olympic events: racquet and equestrian events (tennis, lacrosse and polo); water sports (rowing, sailing and diving) and track and field (discus, hurdles, foot racing and javelin).

The concrete friezes, which were installed in Rice Stadium in 1928, six years after Rumsey's untimely death in an automobile accident, foreshadowed the great public art of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). They remained in place until 1989 when they were demolished along with the stadium.

A casting of the panels in plaster/burlap reinforced with steel rod, however, had been taken from the original mold. These casts, which comprised the only representation of the work extant, were bequeathed to UB by Rumsey's widow, Mary Harriman Rumsey, sister of distinguished American statesman and New York governor, W. Averell Harriman, upon her death in 1934.

UB installed the panels in Clark Gymnasium on the South Campus in 1938, where they remained for 55 years, sustaining damage from wear and age. They were removed in 1993 and stored in anticipation of their restoration.

In 1993, the UB art department's Sculpture Program founded its Casting Institute, which began the task of conserving the panels and restoring them to their original state with an eye toward casting them in bronze.

The project team documented all of its work in writing and with photography and videotape. Among the aspects of documentation included are a written examination report, written and photographic citations of conservation work performed and guidelines for ongoing maintenance. All conservation efforts were performed in accordance with guidelines of The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works.

In 2002, UB announced that $200,000 in grants from the Mary A.H. Rumsey Foundation, the Mary W. Harriman Foundation and an anonymous donor would permit the university to begin the final phase of restoration: the casting of the friezes in bronze. Support for the project also was provided by The Balbach Family Foundation, Outokumpu American Brass, Grace Rumsey Smith, The Stockman Family Foundation Trust and the Technical Skills Institute.

Casting Institute faculty and UB sculpture students poured the bronze under the direction of Reinhold Reitzenstein, UB associate professor of sculpture. Then they prepared the reliefs for final installation by grinding and chasing (working out imperfections), sandblasting, patinization (the process of creating a surface uniform in color) and welding. Project engineers then assessed each panel to determine if it was ready for installation.

Placement of the panel sections into the concrete frames that will hold them was completed June 27 and the sections will undergo a final welding phase to join them over the next several weeks.

The UB Casting Institute operates out of the Center for the Arts on the UB North Campus. It has as its goal training sculptors in the highest degree of professionalism and technical expertise. The institute has accepted many public and private commissions in bronze sculpture and supports restoration activities through its graduate program.

Charles Cary Rumsey was born in Buffalo in 1879, and attended Nichols School and Harvard University, from which he graduated in 1902. As a child, he served as an apprentice to Paul Weyland Bartlett, who at that time was one of the most prominent American sculptors working abroad. He later studied at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Julian and Colarossi Academics in Paris under well-known artists Bela Lyon Pratt and Emmanuel Fremiét, respectively.

Rumsey was a world-class polo player and amateur boxer. His artistic specialties included equestrian sculptures, including portraits of polo players and prize horses, as well as of cowboys, cattle and horses as metaphors. His animal sculptures are notable for the marriage of anecdotal naturalism and artificiality of pose so popular in that era.

Rumsey worked principally in bronze and stone, often employing exotic mythological and historical themes. These were articulated not only in private commissions for free-standing statuary, but in public monuments like fountains, friezes and memorials. Rumsey's 40-foot bas-relief panels of Indians, horses and buffaloes for the Manhattan Bridge and the heroic subject matter of the Rice Stadium commission are examples.

A collection of his works is on permanent exhibition in the Charles Cary Rumsey Room of the Burchfield-Penney Art Center at Buffalo State College and his work is in the permanent collection of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, among many other collections.

Rumsey sculptures and bronze panels also are displayed in a number of public institutions in Buffalo, including Forest Lawn Cemetery, where the artist is buried. His fountain statuary, "The Three Graces," commissioned in 1911 for Arden House in Orange County, home of his father-in-law, railroad magnate Edward H. Harriman, now graces Forest Lawn's Mirror Lake.

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